Focus on Christ Meditations: 47. Death Reasons
Jn 11:49,50 Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
Mt 1:21 “Joseph …. you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
The two verses above summarise the two sets of reasons for the death of Jesus Christ. It was no accident but a purposeful event. We will deal first with the human reasons which we have really already touched upon in the previous study as we saw in Mark’s Gospel those arrayed against Jesus (Mk 3:6, 11:18, 14:1, 27:1). When we look behind those specific verses we see the opposition came because a) Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Mk 3) and thus violated what they saw as their Law, b) he overturned the market in the temple (Mk 11) and thus challenged their spirituality, c) he was present in the city at Passover (Mk 14) after a triumphal entry and was a potential threat to peace, and d) under interrogation he claimed to be the Christ, the Son of God, and the prophetic Son of Man, all of which wrong-footed them and challenged their entire existence!
The threat was made clear in John where, before our verse above and after the raising of Lazarus, we read, “some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (Jn 11:46-48) As far as they were concerned, the fact that he was performing miracles was a problem not a blessing because it meant the crowd were following him, and they had a potential uprising on their hands which they saw could mean the Romans cracking down on them. This was actually a very realistic assessment because it was after rebellion that, in AD70, the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in it, which has never been rebuilt.
So those were the humans reasons – jealousy, fear and maybe even guilt. But there is an interlinking we should note of the divine AND human wills. Peter understood this under the anointing of the Holy Spirit as he preached on the Day of Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) These religious leaders, and indeed the Jews who were there on that day who had cried out for Barabbas to be released and Jesus be crucified, these were the human cause of Jesus’ death. And yet there was something far bigger behind their actions – “God’s set purpose and foreknowledge”. At least seven times in the New Testament there are references to the fact of all this having been planned by the Godhead before the foundation of the world. God knew that sinful religious people, aided and abetted by the people and the Romans, if put under pressure, would rise up in their Sin and reject and crucify His Son.
That has to lead us on to the final part, the Divine Purpose behind Jesus’ death. It is strange that the prophets were largely silent on this aspect of his ministry. Yes, they saw the coming virgin child being a great leader who would usher in the kingdom of God, but the work of the Cross is largely absent from their words and writings, only understood in hindsight.
The prophetic servant songs of Isaiah speak of the coming one bringing justice (e.g. Isa 42:4) and indeed he will do great things of delivering prisoners (42:7) and He will make him the basis of a new covenant and a light for the rest of the world (42:6), but no mention of death. Even in Isa 52,53 where we have previously considered, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed,” (53:5), if we are honest we have to see it is not clearly spelled out. Even in the amazing Psalm 22 we can now see with hindsight, so much that applies to Christ dying on the Cross, but its original readers must have been confused at its lack of clarity. So yes, there were prophetic hints but that is all they were.
When we come to the Gospels we have these general words, “he will save his people from their sins,” but even John does not spell it out and just relies on the facts of what happened, but virtually nothing about the why. It is almost as if the Godhead wanted to largely keep to themselves – at the time – what they are doing, because it is for THEIR benefit first and foremost, and only then for our benefit.
Now I hope that doesn’t sound heretical but it is true that the divine reasons for Christ’s death are not fully spelled out until at least twenty years after his death. Yet Jesus himself, on the road to Emmaus, chided the two anguishing disciples, saying, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:26) Indeed Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah and Malachi all said many things about ‘the Coming One’ but there is still little or nothing about the Cross.
The apostle Paul in his great letter to the Romans first explains about God’s anger against unpunished sin which covers both Jew and Gentile (ch.1-3) and then declares, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:25,26) The footnote in v.25 offers instead of ‘sacrifice of atonement’, “as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin.” But look at the reasoning: “to demonstrate his justice”.
To justify us – to put us right with Himself, so that the estranged human race could have the possibility of coming back to God in a living and loving relationship with God – justice which demands wrong doing be punished, must be satisfied and so God satisfied it (and Satan’s accusations) by taking the punishment in Himself in the form of His Son.
The apostle John wrote the same thing of Christ: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2) The apostle Peter wrote, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” (1 Pet 3:18) I will leave you to peruse the letter to the Hebrews where Jesus is portrayed not only as the high priest who brings us to God, but also as the sacrifice for sins in the same way that animals were sacrificed for sins in the Old Testament era. In Revelation 5 we see Jesus as the Lamb of God standing before the throne of his Father while all heaven sings, “you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Justice is satisfied, the universe is at peace, sinful mankind can return to God because the Christ has died in our place. This is the will of God for us to receive. Hallelujah!